Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he was disappointed that many state colleges had rebuffed his administration's proposal to outsource campus work, suggesting they were motivated by politics rather than practical considerations.
“I understand they are subject to the politics of the governor’s office, legislature and campus workers' union and all sorts of people, but great universities live in the midst of that and work past it," Haslam said.
His comments came at the tail end of the annual budget hearing where college officials met with Haslam to discuss their wish lists for the next fiscal year. The 2018-19 fiscal year budget will mark his last as governor.
The state is seeing plenty of recognition and success for its higher education work, Haslam said, and low tuition increases, the success of the state's college-access programs and a spike in the number of degrees and certificates awarded are the highlight of the state's prosperity.
“In my experience in governance, whether it is business or schools, you get in trouble in the good times because you say, 'Well, we don’t have to do this.' You get into the bad times and you are burning furniture and doing everything just to keep the heat on ... Some of you have been around when funds aren’t around and I urge you to look at how to run this the most effectively."
Haslam proposed to outsource facilities work on college campuses by expanding a state contract with Jones Lang LaSalle, a Chicago-based property management company that already manages work in some state buildings.
The administration has said that expanding outsourcing on college campuses would save around $35 million annually, although college administrators and lawmakers have questioned that figure.
Haslam's administration has pushed heavily to expand outsourcing and spent years working to sell campus administrators on the idea. A skeptical Tennessee General Assembly gave campuses the cover to opt out.
UT Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport decided recently the institution would opt out of outsourcing and argued the university wouldn't save as much as promised. Davenport on Tuesday said she had no comment over Haslam's remarks.
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is one of the only colleges to use JLL for its janitorial services after the university's contract lapsed.
UT system president Joe DiPietro said after the meeting he shared the governor's disappointment in some institutions' process, but not in any final decision.
"Some people reviewed all the evidence and information very carefully, some people both internal and external had a preconceived bias whether we should do that," DiPietro said.
Haslam said that, despite his disappointment, there would not be negative consequences for campuses that do not outsource.
“Many have said, ‘What’s the governor going to do? Cut their budgets?'" Haslam said. “There is no recrimination from us, in my role as governor or anyone else … We meant what we said, this was a tool to use if you found if to be your benefit. We are not going to give less money to higher ed because you didn’t do what people think we wanted you to."
During the hearing, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission pitched modest tuition increases across the state for 2018-19. The total tuition rate hike proposed is between 0 and 3 percent, an amount officials said was driven by a desire to keep college prices more affordable.
"I can assure you, it (the rate) will be the envy of the region across the South," said Mike Krause, THEC executive director.
The commission also unveiled an approximately $500 million priority list of capital projects, including new buildings at Middle Tennessee State University and University of Tennessee Knoxville, and a campus renovation at Cleveland State Community College.